Aung San Suu Kyi,
In his will, Alfred Nobel wrote that the Nobel Peace Prizes were to be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses." In 1991, you became one of the 131 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, awarded for your "non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights," according to your online Nobel Prize biography. Your pursuit of justice and your non-violent advocacy for democratic freedom of a nation in the face of a dominating military government made you an icon for human rights activism, resulting in not only your Nobel Peace Prize, but also your election to the Parliament in 2012 and position of State Counsellor of Myanmar in 2016.
As your Nobel Peace Prize illustrates, your struggles did not go unseen, and you became renown as a symbol of strength, hope, and democracy in Myanmar. Recently, however, other Nobel Prize Laureates and human rights activists, including Desmond Tutu and Malala Yousafzai, have called upon you to use your position of power once again to at least speak out against the tragic and violent persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar that has been occurring over the past two months. To repeat the words of George Barzan, your silence is deafening. Over the course of two months, over 600,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee their homes, and in their search for safety from prosecution, have been raped, tortured, and killed. People in Myanmar, along with people across the globe, have been wondering where your passion for human rights and freedom is now. Why not, at the least, acknowledge the events transpiring in the country? What's holding you back? Many think your silence has a correlation to the preexisting
prejudice towards the Rohingya that was common in Myanmar before the persecution began. The Rohingya, being Muslims in a vastly Buddhist region, are often discriminated against and regarded as illegal immigrants. Even before the horrors from the past two months occurred, the Rohingya were called terrorists, and denied access to education, health care, and even citizenship.
Just as the massacre of Native American tribes in North and South Dakota in 1871 started with a violent slaughter of buffalo (an animal largely depended on by the tribes), and the outlaw of Native American cultural practices, the deliberate destruction of culture leads to the genocide of the peoples of that culture. The steps taken by the government of Myanmar to ostracize the
Rohingya was undoubtedly a factor that resulted in their current persecution. Wade Davis, photographer, anthropologist, and author of The Wayfinders, writes,"Genocide, the physical extermination of a people, is universally condemned. Ethnocide, the destruction of a people's way of life, is in many ways sanctioned and endorsed as appropriate development policy" (171). During the Holocaust, directly before the Nazi regime pursued the physical persecution of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe, the first steps taken by the Nazis were taken to vilify and isolate the Jewish people. They were restricted from certain areas in the cities, had specific possessions taken away, forbidden to visit synagogues, banned from the use bikes or cars, and in other ways were oppressed by the Nazi regime before the war started. The same blueprint of
lawful restrictions were used during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Ethnocide very often leads to genocide. The government of Myanmar has failed to recognize and break this pattern, resulting in the violent persecution and murder of thousands of Rohingya occurring right now.
If any other reason is needed to be opposed (besides the devastation and tragedy of genocide), with every murder of a Rohingya, an entire world of culture, stories, and experiences is torn from the world. Humanity as a whole has been losing precious life, culture, and knowledge for thousands of years. From the burning of the Library of Alexandria in 48 BC, to the genocide of native american tribes at the hands of colonists, to the Holocaust in the 1940's, human beings have been the result of their own lack of perspective, understanding, and
appreciation of culture since the beginning of time. In The Wayfinders, Davis points out that only recently have we started to acknowledge the importance of ancient cultures in the modern world. Davis writes,"Is the value of a people simply a correlate of their numbers? To the contrary, every culture is by definition a vital branch of our family tree, a repository for knowledge and experience, and, if given the opportunity, a source of inspiration and promise for the future" (5). The Rohingya have existed in Myanmar since the 12th century. Although indigenous to western Myanmar, the Rohingya are not recognized as an ethnicity in the country; They are identified as a foreign people, despite the nine centuries that they have spent living in Myanmar. Since their arrival and the beginning of their development as a culture, the Rohingya have received influence from the Arabs, the Mughals, and the Portuguese, distinguishing the Rohingya from the
rest of the Muslims- not only in Myanmar, but in the entire world. Each culture and each person who practices a certain culture has entirely different experiences and thus inflicts their own ideals onto that culture. A Muslim woman can choose not to wear a hijab. Many Christians do not follow all of the guidelines set by the Old Testament. To murder the population of the
Rohingya in Myanmar is to erase nine centuries of influence, experience, and cultural development.
Aung San Suu Kyi - your Nobel Peace Prize, your ties to human rights activism, and your position as the vanguard of freedom in Myanmar give you not only the power but also the incentive to aid the Rohingya, fight for their freedom, and end their suffering. You have the power to encourage millions of people to focus on the preservation of life and culture across the world. You can be among the first political leaders to recognize the patterns of ethnocide and genocide in the history of the world and make a change. Because of this, I urge you to speak out
on behalf of the Rohingya, and spread Davis's message of cultural appreciation and most importantly, perspective. As a final reminder of what Davis's message is, I leave you with this quote: "Culture is not trivial. It is not decoration or artifice, the songs we sing or even the prayers we chant. It is a blanket of comfort that gives meaning to lives. It is a body of knowledge that allows the individual to make sense out of the infinite sensations of consciousness, to find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has neither. Culture is a body of laws and
traditions, a moral and ethical code that insulates a people from the barbaric heart that history suggests lies just beneath the surface of all human societies and indeed all human beings. Culture alone allows us to reach, as Abraham Lincoln said, for the better angels of our nature" (198).